There is much made of the importance of gratitude to happiness. Yet there is also a temptation to dismiss ‘being grateful’ as unwarranted, particularly when we are feeling hard done by. The phrase is too often used to mean being beholden. It is too often used by people who tell us we ‘should be grateful’ to them for doing something for us, by which they actually mean they think we owe them something in return.
Gratitude is not owed. It cannot be bartered. It is a heartfelt thankfulness. It shifts our focus from what is wrong in life to what is right. Those things, people, experiences available to us that we cherish. The feats that we have acheived. What we have to look forward to. Sometimes these things are not obvious to us when times are hard – we need to remind ourselves to take time out and really think about them.
As an example, I find myself at nearly 50 a single mother with chronic migraine. My son has a brain tumour and associated health issues. My Mum is elderly with growing health problems and is requiring increasing help. I am in debt after the split. It is challenging to make ends meet on reduced hours at work, and a challenge to keep up with even those hours in between all our health issues. At first glance it does not, perhaps, look like there is much here to be grateful for. It is not a life that I would ever have picked off a shelf. But it is mine.
We may not have much control over what the universe throws at us and our loved ones. We do all get to make a choice in how we deal with it. Whether to focus on what is wrong with our lives, fuelling sorrow, bitterness and resentment. Or whether to look for those things that we are truly grateful for, particularly when times are tough. Do we focus on the scaries or the fairies?
It was my son’s six-monthly MRI scan recently. The build up and the week waiting for the results is hard, and it is all too easy to anticipate the worst, and to wish that things were different. It is a difficult time of year and I have drawn into myself a little to get through it. That is okay. Sometimes we all need a little personal space to reflect. But this time I made a conscious effort to reflect on what I am grateful for. And it helped.
I am grateful that I met and fell in love with my now ex, for the good times that we had, for the child that we created together. I am grateful that I found the courage and the resources to leave him when I needed to. I am grateful that my Mum made the brave decision to leave everything and everyone she knew behind to move to Scotland to be closer to me all those years ago, for all the time we have been able to spend together, and that she trusts me to help her now. I am grateful that our wonderful NHS, diagnosed my son’s tumour early and that our Italian neurosurgeon and his team were able to remove at least some of it without the surgery causing any major deficits in brain function. And that he came out of that surgery alive and still able to walk and talk. I am grateful that I have a supportive employer, who keeps providing me with interesting projects that matter, and with the flexibility to fit them as best I can around my own and others health issues. I am grateful that I can provide a home to live in with my son and put food on the table. I am grateful for my fun, loving, brave, amazing son, and particularly for every day of the two years and 8 months I have had with him since we found the tumour. And I am very grateful that the scan came back stable.
Life looks much more fulfilling when you feel gratitude for the things that are important to you.
What are you truly grateful for?